This is by far the best presidential campaign video I have seen:
FYI, that was made by a guy named William Adams (he's the first guy you see in the video), not the Obama campaign itself. You can watch Obama's speech here. Transcript here.
Now, if you are like me, you've suffered from low-level clinical depression that mysteriously appeared in November of 2000, that you expected to clear up in November of 2004, but then didn't, and now you expect it to clear up in November of 2008. In fact, if you are like me, you might suspect that GWB is on the payroll of anti-depressant manufacturers seeing as he has done such a great job of drumming up business.
Obama does something here which is so simple but so effective: he shares emotions with people. And the emotion people need the most now is hope. Obama is a master orator, and his speeches absolutely resonate with hopeful emotion (he's not so hot as a debater, to be fair.) If you watch some of MLK's and JFK's old speeches, you will find a very similar style. America is broken, most Americans know that, and we need hope. We need our leaders to understand that.
In polls over the last several years, the US Congress (and Vice President) have had an approval rating in the teens, while the President has been in the 30s, "peaking" at 29%. For reference, when Bill Clinton was impeached in 1998, his approval was in the 60s, and in July of 1973, when the Watergate scandal was in full force, Nixon's approval was 39%. America, when compared to the rest of the developed world, has one foot in the crapper, and people don't feel very good about that. Aside from the normal big issues of bitter partisanship, Iraq, the economy, and the environment, we've got a whole lot of other crap going on. Our infant mortality rates are worse than every other developed nation in the world, with the exception of Latvia. Americans consume more cocaine than any other developed nation. We have the highest rates of teen pregnancy and STDs in the developed world (16 times as high as Sweden!) We imprison more of our own citizens by far than any other nation in the world, including Russia and China (both by proportion and absolute figures), and imprison seven times as of our own citizens as most developed nations (by proportion.) Educationally, we are dropping internationally, in K-12 comprehension, college enrolment, and university research output. Only 20% of Americans think the nation is on the right track. As a nation, we are getting downright grumpy.
But Americans are generally good people. I would say overwhelmingly so. And to see all these bad things happen to our country makes us sad, and yearn for hope. Obama sees that, and empathizes. Gore and Kerry saw it, and offered facts and statistics. (Bush doesn't see it at all -- he thinks we're all doing "a heckuva job.") Unfortunately, facts, figures, and policy plans don't win elections, and Democrats are big on presenting statistics and policy minutia. Do you know the only Democratic president in living memory to win re-election? Bill Clinton. Why? He could empathize with people, even if he was a slimeball in certain other regards. But this isn't just my opinion; there is a raft of empirical research showing that leaders (whether they be Presidents or just your boss) who empathize are the ones who are considered successful, facts be damned. The results are always the same: for most people, politics is all about emotion, and particularly emotions tied in with social groups. This has been demonstrated in countless studies conducted in the field, lab studies, and through fMRI scans (when thinking about political candidates, the logic parts of our brains don't light up -- the emotion parts do). Drew Westen, a psychology professor at Emory, has published extensively in this area, and has a good review of the research in The Political Brain (2007) for those who are interested.
Personally, I like facts and figures. Probably a little too much. So when I vote, it comes after a lot of time looking up statistics, checking on old senate votes, and comparing policy proposals. I do this for state elections in states I don't even live in. I realize that makes me about as lame as a two legged horse, but it's how I am. So trust me when I say policy is important. To me, it is all about utilitarianism. But policy does not win elections. Emotional intelligence does. It's a relief to finally see a candidate who can articulate and embrace the nation's feelings, and has a solid policy platform. Fingers crossed for Tuesday!
(Something else that needs to change: I received my absentee ballot just this week -- at least two weeks too late to guarantee arriving in time for Tuesday's primary. You guys will have to vote for me since mine won't be counted.)